Man City 4-3 Real Madrid: Karim Benzema brace keeps Champions League tie in balance after stunning first leg

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·4-min read
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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Manchester City have a narrow lead at the halfway stage of their Champions League semi-final tie against Real Madrid after a thrilling 4-3 win at the Etihad.

In an astonishing European match, City took a two-goal lead inside 11 minutes as Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne got them off to a flying start. Karim Benzema notched his 40th goal of the season though, completely against the run of play, to halve the deficit.

Phil Foden extended the lead shortly after the break, only for Vinicius Junior to respond almost immediately with a brilliant solo effort. Bernardo Silva lashed home from the edge of the box to make it 4-2, but there was still time for Benzema to step up to the spot and dispatch an impudent panenka.

The game could have finished any score - as it is, Real will be incredibly relieved they are still right in the tie going into next week’s second leg in Madrid.

City started with John Stones at right-back as they looked to deal with a shortage at the back, while Real suffered a blow as Casemiro was fit enough only for the bench.

Guardiola has often been accused of over-thinking these big European nights, but even he would have had very little time to gather his thoughts before his side took the lead inside two minutes. Riyad Mahrez drifted past the challenges and curled a ball into the box, where De Bruyne stooped to head home an early opener.

Jesus, fresh off his four goals against Watford, made a great start a dream one. De Bruyne was involved again, putting a low cross in which David Alaba failed to deal with it and it fell perfectly for Jesus to convert from close range.

City were imperious as Real fell apart, De Bruyne and Foden in particular running the show. Mahrez blasted an effort into the side-netting from a tight angle when he had two players waiting for a tap-in, leaving Guardiola absolutely furious on the touchline. Foden then dragged a shot just wide as the home side could very feasibly have been 4-0 up.

Instead, it was 2-1. Benzema has at times single-handedly dragged Real through the Champions League this season and his latest intervention got them back in the tie. Ferland Mendy’s cross was a decent one, but it was made to look even better when Benzema sent a left-footed volley into the bottom corner to halve the deficit.

Shortly afterwards, Stones was forced off and Fernandinho replaced him, as Real went into half-time with hope they shouldn’t have had.

It was very nearly a start after the break reminiscent of the first-half. Mahrez beat Eder Militao to the ball and was clean through on goal, though his curling effort bounced off the far post. The rebound fell to Foden, who was denied by Dani Carvajal on the line.

 (AP)
(AP)

City restored their two-goal advantage eight minutes into the half. Fernandinho did a wonderful impression of Kyle Walker to burst out of defence and intercept the ball, carrying on his run as he drove forward with the ball and clipped a superb cross into the box. Foden was unmarked and had a simple headed finish.

Fernandinho’s next contribution was markedly less positive for his side. Vinicius turned the 36-year-old on the halfway line and he was away, with the chasing City defenders getting nowhere near him. The Brazilian drove into the box and curled a finish into the far corner, less than two minutes after Foden was wheeling away in celebration.

The chances continued to flow at both ends of the pitch, with Aymeric Laporte popping up as a striker to send a shot straight at Thibaut Courtois before Rodrygo wasted a good opportunity for Real.

With 15 minutes to go, Silva made it 4-2 with a wonderful finish from the edge of the box. Oleksandr Zinchenko was brought down, but the referee played advantage as the Real defence stopped and Silva took full advantage to smash an effort past the motionless Courtois.

It seemed impossible to imagine the match having even more drama, but Benzema had other ideas. Laporte handled in the box, leaving Benzema to defy the situation and show outrageous nerve to dink the ball down the middle for his 14th Champions League goal of the season.

That was to be the last time the scoreboard was troubled in an incredible 90 minutes, with the only regret that there is a week to wait until the second leg.

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